How to Grow a Skincare Garden

Vivian Mac vegan skincare

The skincare industry is thriving. From Kylie Jenner to Selena Gomez, it feels like every celebrity has a beauty company now. And beyond the star-studded lines, new “skindie” brands are launching so frequently we can’t keep up. But when it comes to beauty, more is always more—we love seeing new cruelty-free options and small businesses crop up. But there’s another way to get your beauty fix, too—and you don’t have to go anywhere near Sephora. 

How, you ask? Grow your own! Skincare gardening is becoming increasingly popular, and yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You choose the herbs you want, grow them (either in the garden or in a pot on the window sill), harvest them, and then mix them with oils and other ingredients to make your own personalized skincare products from home. It’s a down-to-earth way to nourish your skin. Plus it’s creative, fun, gets you close to nature—and may even have some mental health benefits, too.

To help you on your journey to becoming an at-home skin alchemist, we spoke with Vivian Mac, a herbalist and founder of the herbal remedy brand, Willow’s Touch. 

Most of the products available to buy from Mac’s site start their lives in her parent’s garden, where she grows the herbs and flowers required for her “dream-inspired” herbal remedies. (If she can’t grow what she requires, she buys produce as locally as possible.) She then mixes, infuses, and steeps herbs together with oils and water to create a wide variety of elixirs and tinctures – from Body and Aura Mist (for bug protection) to Move Your Body (for soothing painful joint and muscles). Here she focuses on the herbs with skin benefits, to guide you through how to grow your very own skincare garden.

vegan skincare garden
A skincare garden is an area of your garden where you grow herbs or flowers to harvest for DIY skin care remedies. | Chris Willmore

What is a skincare garden? 

A skincare garden is an area of your garden, or a few pots or jars inside the home, where you grow herbs or flowers that you intend to harvest for DIY skin care remedies. How complicated or large your garden is is entirely up to you. If you’re a beginner, Mac recommends starting off simple, before branching out and growing more plants when you feel more confident. “You don’t have to start with 100 plants, just begin with one or two,” she recommends. “Learn to take care of them, observe them—trial and error.”

vegan skincare garden
There are many benefits that can come from starting a skincare garden. | Chris Willmore

Why grow your own plants to make beauty products?

We’ll get into which herbs are best for beginners, what materials you need, tips and tricks, and simple DIY skincare recipes in just a moment. But first, let’s look at what are some of the benefits that can come from starting a skincare garden. 

Gardening may boost your health and your mood

A growing body of research suggests that certain plants can help to boost your mood. For example, the scent of lavender is associated with feelings of calm and reduced stress and anxiety. The same goes for rosemary and jasmine, both of which are associated with relaxation. 

And in terms of physical benefits, breathing in eucalyptus may help the respiratory system, particularly for those with conditions that impact breathing, like asthma. Inhaling the steam from a bowl of hot water and a few drops of eucalyptus oil may even help to ease symptoms of the common cold. (That’s why eucalyptus is a key ingredient in many vapor rub products.) 

Plus, the physical act of gardening and nurturing your own plants and herbs comes with a host of mental health benefits, says Mac. 

“There are benefits to grounding in nature, and working with your hands in the soil,” she says. “And I find that when I’m outside, near plants, I feel much calmer. Part of what I have realized through practicing herbalism, and getting to know plants more deeply, is how becoming connected to nature helps us with our own nature. It helps me come from a grounded and centered place.”

And there is science to back up her observations. In 2015, a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that interacting with plants inside the home may lower both psychological and physiological stress. Bristol University researchers also found that soil bacteria could even impact the brain in the same way as antidepressants. “[It] leaves us wondering if we [should] all be spending more time playing in the dirt,” said lead author Dr. Chris Lowry. 

DIY is cheaper than store-bought

Growing your own plants from home and using them to make DIY recipes is also cheaper than buying expensive skincare products (which can be loaded with artificial colors or preservatives, as well as fillers like water), especially if you keep things simple. 

Mac’s rosemary hair rinse, for example, involves just two ingredients: rosemary and water, which are steeped together and cooled before rinsing through the hair. If you buy a small bunch of rosemary from the store, which is anti-fungal and can help to combat dandruff, it’s often less than $3.

“Pretty much I’ve swapped most of my skincare, body care, to just homemade. And I haven’t looked back,” says Mac. “There are so many ways you can support yourself, without getting the super fancy, super expensive skincare.”

You can personalize homemade skincare

While it may be easier and quicker to browse online and pick out a few products to try, curating your own skincare garden allows you to choose the exact ingredients, scents, and benefits you want out of your skincare products. If you suffer from eczema or psoriasis, you might consider planting some calendula, which is known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. (You can find Mac’s recipe for a calendula face serum below.) If you love the scent of lemon balm, or perhaps lavender, you can change your recipes to include these ingredients.

And importantly, you’re also in control of what is not in your skincare recipe. “When you buy a bottle of shampoo or face cream, [you] don’t know how the plant has been extracted and put into it,” says Mac. “More likely than not it contains preservatives and other additives that aren’t really great for your skin, but it’s necessary because it’s been mass-produced and needs a stable shelf life.”

This is an especially appealing draw when you consider that the U.S. allows hundreds of potentially harmful ingredients, many of which are banned in the EU, to be included in cosmetic products.

vegan skincare garden
Here’s how to grow a skincare garden. | Chris Willmore

How to grow a skincare garden

If you’re sold on why you should start your own skincare garden, let’s get into the how. We asked Mac what basic materials you’ll need to get started, what are the easiest herbs to grow, and her top tips for a successful DIY skincare journey, plus she shared some of her very own recipes with us.

Get the right equipment

Before you get started on your skincare gardening journey, you’re going to need a few materials:

  • Gardening equipment—pots, gloves, shovels, gardening shears (or sharp scissors), plus you’ll need some air-tight containers to store your products in when you’re done. Mac recommends using glass jars
  • Dirt—potting soil and compost fertilizer. If you know where to go, you may be able to get your hands on some of the latter at zero cost. Mac says: “Look at resources in your area that you might be able to take advantage of. If there’s a local compost program in your city or town where they give away free compost, you can use that as fertilizer for your soil.” You can also buy organic fertilizers from your local garden center or online.
vegan skincare garden
Mac makes a DIY lemon balm scrub. | Chris Willmore

Choose, plant, and nurture your herbs

Next, you’ll need to choose your plants. As well as things like scent and skin benefits, it’s worth picking a plant based on how much time and effort you want to spend looking after it. Here are some starter herb suggestions and the benefits of each. 

  • Peppermint 

Care: Keep in the sun or partial shade, water once or twice a week, ensure good drainage. 

Benefits: Soothing, cooling, and great for the skin. “Mint helps with soothing skin inflammation topically, and internally, it’s great for digestion,” says Mac. “There are so many different ways you can use mint. You could do a head wash, you could make a scrub with it, or you can make herbal-infused oil.”

  • Chamomile

Care: Keep in a partly shaded area, water in very dry weather. 

Benefits: Can reduce blemishes and redness on the skin. Important note: You’ll need a little more space in the garden or more pots to grow enough chamomile for a recipe, as the herb produces very few flowers. “It takes a lot of work to yield so little. And then you have to cut off the flower tops and dry them and process them” says Mac. But it’s worth it: chamomile is packed with antioxidants, plus the scent is sweet and fresh.

  • Rosemary

Care: Keep in the sun, water every one to two weeks.

Benefits: Antibacterial and antifungal. “Rosemary helps with yeast overgrowth that contributes to dandruff,” says Mac. “[It’s] good for dry hair and an itchy scalp. It also helps increase blood circulation, which helps promote hair growth by bringing nutrients to that area.”

  • Calendula

Care: Keep potted in the sun or partial shade, water once a week in hot weather.

Benefits: Helps with soothing damaged areas of skin. “I’ve used this topically for bites, scrapes, kitchen burns, acne, sunburns,” says Mac. “Calendula is a great herb to have on hand in the summertime.”

Whatever herb you choose, you can either buy the seeds or you can head to a farmers’ market or garden center to find a baby plant. With the former, you’ll need to start with a smaller container with holes in the bottom so the water can drain out. When you see shoots start to sprout, move it to a larger pot to give it more room to grow. How much you need to water your plant varies on what the herb is and the season, so check labels.

Harvest your herbs

When you’ve nurtured your plants to their full potential and you’re ready to start making skincare, be mindful of how you harvest the herbs. Make sure the scissors you’re using are sharp for a nice clean snip, which will help to protect the plant from damage. Taking care of your herbs could also mean taking care of local wildlife, says Mac.

“Plants aren’t there just for you,” she notes. “They’re also in a relationship with all the pollinators. I try to be mindful of how I cut the plant so that it keeps growing. I try to be mindful of leaving some for the other pollinators and for itself, so it’s not just take, take, take.” She adds: “Making skincare from home is a great way to connect to nature.”

vegan skincare garden
You can make DIY skincare products with your harvested herbs. | Chris Willmore

Hair rinse, serum, and scrub: Try these DIY skincare recipes

When you’ve harvested your herbs, what you do next depends on what skincare you want to make. 

For a serum, for example, you’ll need to dry the herbs, pop them in a jar, cover them in oil, and shake regularly. You’ll need to place them in an area that gets a lot of sunlight, so the heat gently warms up the oil over a period of six weeks. But don’t worry, not all recipes take that long. Some take as little as 10 minutes to make.

To find out more, let Mac walk you through three of her favorite skincare recipes — a rosemary hair rinse, a lemon balm sugar scrub, and a calendula face serum — here.

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